If you already grow agricultural commodities for sale or are thinking about starting an agriculture-based business, then this article is for you.

Understanding the basics of value-added food products can help bring increased revenue to your farm and business.

Value-added foods are strictly defined by the United States Department of Agriculture under the Code of Federal Regulations. According to the USDA, the agricultural commodity must meet one of the five value-added methodologies listed under the code.

These methodologies include:

  • A change in the physical state or form of the product (e.g. making berries into jam)
  • The production of a product in a manner that enhances its value (e.g. organic produce)
  • Is physically segregated in a manner that results in the enhancement of the value of the agricultural commodity (such as an identity preserved product)
  • Is a source of farm or ranch-based renewable energy (e.g. corn is turned into ethanol)
  • Is aggregated and marketed as a locally produced agricultural food product

Ultimately, the agricultural commodity must expand the customer base for the commodity and result in a greater portion of revenue for the producer. Some examples of value-added products include processing berries into jam, jellies or syrups; grinding wheat into flour; or turning chickpeas into hummus. Value-added products can benefit agricultural commodity growers by opening new markets, increasing revenue, and extending the marketing season of the farm’s produce.

Idaho State Department of Agriculture and Washington State Department of Agriculture have multiple resources available to help get you started in the value-added food business. Idaho producers can visit agri.idaho.gov/main/marketing/domestic-marketing/ for more information. WSDA’s Regional Markets Program can help Washington producers. Several resources are available at smallfarms@agr.wa.gov. Additionally, your local Extension can provide resources and additional support to help you get started, and workshops and training courses are often available if you are interested in learning more before jumping in. Washington State University has a variety of resources available for value-added processors at foodprocessing.wsu.edu/extension/.

If you are interested in producing value-added food products, be sure to check with the regulatory authority in your state before you start. Depending on the product being produced and the method of sale, value-added products may be regulated by state, federal or local agencies. For example, certain jams may be sold directly to consumers in Idaho and Washington under cottage food regulations. In Idaho, cottage foods are regulated by the regional Health Department, while in Washington, they are regulated by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Acidified foods, such as pickles, may be regulated by state or federal agencies. These agencies can let you know which regulations your value-added products will fall under and can help you with complying with the regulations.

If financial resources are impeding your ability to get started, you may wish to look into USDA’s Value-Added Producer Grant program. This program provides grants to farmers and ranchers to help increase the value of a producer’s agricultural commodities. The overall goal of the program is to “generate new products, initiate and expand marketing opportunities, increase producer earnings, create new jobs and contribute to community economic development.” VAPG provides financial assistance for producers for activities such as processing and marketing of value-added products. More information about this program is available at www.agmrc.org.

Regardless of the agricultural commodity you produce, there is likely a value-added product for you. There are many resources available to help you get started, so don’t be afraid to take the leap.

If you have a food safety question you would like to see appear in this column, send your question to us at food.safety@wsu.edu.

Dr. Stephanie Smith is an assistant professor and statewide consumer food safety specialist for Washington State University Extension. She can be reached at food.safety@wsu.edu or at (855) 335-0575. Visit the Extension’s website at extension.wsu.edu/foodsafety/, or follow it on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wsuextfs/ or Twitter at twitter.com/WSU_foodsafety.

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